Though the they were able to mount another heroic comeback against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Sabres are left with more questions than answers with 29 games remaining.
A listless Buffalo squad took the ice for the first 50 minutes of the contest, one night removed from a sloppy 2-1 loss at the hands of New Jersey.
Just minutes before the Sabres potted three third period goals in just over three minutes, the frustrated home crowd voiced their displeasure with their floundering squad as their team failed yet again to show up for the first two periods of the game. The Sabres need to win in bunches down the stretch if they have any intention of trying to steal a playoff spot in a crowded eastern conference race. As of right now, they project to finish close to where they did last season, right around .500.
Since the start of the 16-17’ campaign, fans have criticized head coach Dan Bylsma, citing him as the main culprit for the team’s lack of improvement. The blue and gold faithful have exchanged their foam fingers for pitchforks as the constant line juggling and poorly coordinated game plans have worn thin on their collective patience. Just as the Sabres appear to have things figured out (i.e. a 4-0 drubbing of the Ottawa Senators on February 4), they follow up their strong performances with head scratching play in critical games. A good portion of that comes down to coaching. Bylsma has failed to have his squad game-ready on numerous occasions this season and the time has come for GM Tim Murray to consider a change behind the bench. As it turns out, now might be the perfect time.
The Boston Bruins fired long time head coach Claude Julien today after nearly ten seasons with the team. Julien posted a 512-309-111 career record with the Bruins, along with a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. Though Julien had failed to get his team to the postseason for the past two seasons, he may be just what this young Sabres team needs to kick them into gear. Julien’s firing is reminiscent of Lindy Ruff’s ousting in in 2013. A long-time coach with marked success on a team in need of a shake-up.
By comparison over their respective careers, Bylsma actually has a better record than Julien at 287-153-43, but he has failed to push the Sabres over the hump in his second season with the team. Some will attribute Bylsma’s past success with the Penguins to Sidney Crosby’s meteoric rise to stardom; a fair argument to make. Julien also had his fair share of talented players like Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas and Milan Lucic during his best years in Boston, though they pale in comparison to the Crosby-Malkin combo that Bylsma had the opportunity to work with.
It is painfully obvious that the Sabres need a collective kick in the pants. Improvement on the ice is long overdue and a coaching change should certainly be in consideration among the Sabres’ brass. Buffalo has stayed competitive in the standings to this point, but they have relied heavily on third period comebacks to win a big chunk of their games. That is simply not sustainable, and certainly not the mark of a play-off ready squad. The talent and ability is obviously there. The key now is to translate the third period performances into game-in and game-out consistency. Bylsma has failed big in that regard. While a change is not likely before the end of the season, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach like Julien might be exactly what this team needs down the stretch.